Page 33. " finally compelled to strike my colours "
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HMS Iphigenia Strikes her Colours
Public DomainHMS Iphigenia Strikes her Colours - Credit: Pierre Julien Gilbert
Striking the colours means surrendering

In international law, naval ships are required to fly their national flag or ensign ("colours") before commencing hostilities.  If the colours are taken down during battle, it signifies surrender.  Hence, particularly defiant combatants will "nail the colours to the mast" to signal a refusal to surrender.

Hoisting a white flag signifies a request for a truce, not an indication of surrender as is commonly believed.

Page 35. " you've caught cold, I saw you shivering, and you must have some gruel to drive it out "

Gruel is a thin watery porridge made from oats, wheat or rice. It was a staple food for the poor, with a history going back to ancient Greece. It is commonly associated with workhouses and was made famous by Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist, in which Oliver memorably dares to ask for more. Although it has some nutritional value, gruel is often thin, grey and unappetising, and has been well represented in fiction as the food of mean, miserly characters. 

Oliver Twist
Public DomainOliver Twist - Credit: George Cruikshank
Gruel Recipe

3 or 4 tablespoons oatmeal

1 pint cold water

pinch of salt

Mix the oatmeal with a splash of water in a pan to make a paste. Add the rest of the water, stir well and bring to the boil. Cook on a gentle boil for about ten minutes. Add salt to taste.


Page 36. " I ran errands too, and helped to make hay "

Hay-making was a big task, and often all members of a household would be asked to lend a hand. Time was of the essence, as it was essential to get the hay in before the next rain.  Hay-making could become quite an event.



Page 37. " asking how he could fashion to bring that gipsy brat into the house "


The Caravans - Gypsy Camp near Arles
Public DomainThe Caravans - Gypsy Camp near Arles - Credit: Vincent Van Gogh

Gypsies was the name given to Romani travellers. Having no permanent home, they wandered from place to place in travelling caravans. The first gypsies are believed to have come from Egypt, hence the name gypsy, and this would explain their darker skin and hair. Heathcliff, with his brooding dark looks and general air of scruffiness would have fit the prevailing idea of what a gypsy looked like; they were perceived to be unclean and untrustworthy. Groups of gypsies can still be found in the UK today, although the term now covers nomadic travellers of all nationalities, not just the Romani.


Page 37. " in the streets of Liverpool "
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Irish Famine, 1847
Public DomainIrish Famine, 1847 - Credit: James Mahony
While Emily Brontë was writing Wuthering Heights, her brother Branwell spent some time in Liverpool, and witnessed the plight of Irish refugees from the Great Famine (1845-1852).  The "dirty, ragged, black-haired child" could have been a gypsy, but it's equally likely he was one of the many starving Irish children who found themselves adrift in Liverpool.

Page 42. " He was, and is yet, most likely, the wearisomest, self-righteous pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself, and fling the curses on his neighbours "
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBible - Credit: Walter J Pilsak

Joseph's religious fervour makes an appearance time and time again in Wuthering Heights. Brontë writes of it in an almost scornful manner, her contempt for his piety obvious. When the book was written, religion was still an important part of everyday life for most people in England, and growing up with a curate for a father, Emily would very likely have been exposed to people like Joseph.